An interview with Cameron Allen, Nolan Georgenes, and Alex DeWahl
Rarely is it that one considers the work that goes on behind a party. Say you’re having some people over, you’re hosting at your own place. You want to provide an entertaining time, but you also want it to be effortless — guests should be able to come in, kick off their shoes, lose themselves to dance, and get to that particular level of inebriation they desire (which might be none!). To tick all these boxes, you need money and you need labor. It’s a thankless job, throwing a party, which often leads to invisible Gatsby-esque hosts who skulk around the party never truly participating as if constantly pulling on an intricate system of strings that keeps all the event’s moving parts in their proper place, ambulating with hip-shaking finesse.
These extroverts, champions of gatherings, and providers of imbibements foster community in a way no one else can. That’s exactly what defines Stroke, the bi-monthly passion project by DJs and event organizers Cameron Allen, Nolan Georgenes, and Alex DeWahl. Dedicated to providing a good time for everyone, the trio aims to bottle what makes a good party so good and provide that, in equal amounts, to everyone present.
Cameron has been a longtime party thrower. For the past few years, he has had a large event with guest DJs at his own apartment for New Year’s Eve, his own way of bringing in the new year with propulsive house beats and a room of smiling friends. “It was quite literally born in my bedroom,” Cameron says. “I’ve been brought to tears because of parties before. And ultimately for me, it’s about community. And how people literally need this. You know, the world’s fucked up right now. And people kind of need this getaway to survive.”
Nolan agrees. “Coming from the concept of house parties thrown at Cameron’s, then moving into this space, it gave us an opportunity to evolve the concept and grow in scale,” he says. “I think there’s a lack of underground parties in Atlanta that have the venue to accompany it.”
Branded as a “queer centric dance party,” the event has a strict “zero negativity” policy, whether that be from blatant hate speech or denigration of bodies.
“There’s such a lack of space that is not, like, Midtown for queer people who are artists, who are weirdos, who are just fucking different,” Cameron says. When asked how they represent the queer community, the three were contemplative for a time — this isn’t to say they were stumped. They were truly ruminating on how they engender a queer space.
“Well, it’s not at a venue; it feels special,” Alex offers. “But you still have to be like, invited. But it’s open at the same time.”
The idea is the people make the fun for themselves, without pressure or too many eyes. They provide the entertainment, the space, and the vibe, and the people form that community around it, a microcosm of queer experience that’s zoomed in and ephemeral. You can feel it in the air when you walk into Stroke — it isn’t dour, or a place where you feel your behavior is under monitoring. Instead, it’s a space where people can come as their best selves, serve a look, have some fun, listen to some excellent techno, and stay for a while. “A while” depends on how long you can last; typically, the music goes until near sunrise. “If you find this place, and you understand it, maybe you’ll hang around longer,” says Cameron. He’s used to bringing the morning in.
Still, they weren’t satisfied with the answers they gave. Sitting on a couch outside Mammal Gallery, it’s silent as each considers the question at hand: How do we represent queerness at Stroke? Any party-goer would pick up on it, whether they were longtime followers of the DJs or stumbled in off the street. “You can go in and hang out; we got couches,” Alex tells an unaware man who tripped his way into our chat. I noticed him still present as I headed home around 2 a.m.
This particular section of queerness is difficult to pin down, that of queer celebration. These three, however, are gracefully humble. Never do they provide an answer so incisive it feels practiced. They consider, organically, the implications of the atmosphere they create, maybe for the first time.
They’re unpretentious when it comes to their influences, too — without Kudzu, Deep South, and other formative party-makers, they wouldn’t even have the name Stroke.
“We’re all good friends and big supporters of [Kudzu founder] Danny Fernandez,” says Cameron. “He’s like, one of the most gracious people I’ve ever met and has made Atlanta home for me for sure. But [the name Stroke] was his idea. He recommended it when we were trying to come up with the name.” I pointed out the mystic allure of “Stroke” — it’s just one punchy syllable with infinitesimal meanings, from allusions to overexertion (from heat or deficiency of blood) to gentle, intimate caresses.
Later, Cameron would tell me all about DJ Ron Pullman and his achievements in the Atlanta house world with cool passion. He informs me on his legacy, and on what he brought to Atlanta. “One of our goals was to be sure to connect the history embedded here with the ‘New Atlanta,’” Cameron writes of the event on Facebook. Cameron is a DJ’s DJ, concerned with the story, with the wisdom passed from dance movement to dance movement. I had long since realized “parties” mean a lot more to the Stroke crew than feverish sweat — it’s about the blood spilled that allows it to happen.
The most fascinating part of the process was seeing the labor behind it all. Not just the planning, but the amount of hands needed to set up equipment, hang lights, arrange the space, and keep the show running during its more-than-seven hour duration. Everyone involved seemed eager, smiling for the camera and responding with haste when called for. The three can’t thank everyone involved enough; they express their graciousness nearly every time someone new comes up in our conversation, from the owners of Mammal Gallery to their respectful attendees.
As the night went on, I’m left wondering how Stroke manages to be so seamless in its execution. There’s not a hiccup to be seen, despite what appears to be the organizers’ latent anxiety behind the event’s production. Perhaps my favorite thing about them is their indelible desire to make Stroke cool, to create an event that people will remember. As an attendee, you would never suspect that the group behind Stroke would be worried about anything like that. The “coolness” they manifest is less that of style, but more of who is allowed to feel included in the event. Establishing an “inclusive exclusivity,” queer and differently abled people of any race can feel like they belong, like they’re an integral part of the Stroke experience without feeling needlessly surveilled. It’s harder to achieve than you might think. They’ve already attained what they might fret about — a placidly sophisticated and seemingly effortless mark on everyone’s calendar. A day after the show, Cameron would message me, thanking me (displaying his vigilant courtesy yet again) for the questions. He says the answers are “still revealing themselves” to him. I wonder if he’s arrived at a satisfying conclusion… or maybe partying is all about the journey.